Monday, February 15th – It was the second day on the Antarctic Peninsula so far, and we had an early start as Bud, our expedition leader, decided we should visit Pourquoi Pas Island as we headed back north.
In addition to both the regular shore visit and a Zodiac tour, we were also given the option of kayaking in the area, so that’s what we all did.
The National Geographic Explorer includes an easy to assemble kayaking platform which floats in the ocean
We were in the Group B kayak group, meaning we left the National Geographic Explorer at 9:15am by Zodiac, getting to a special floating kayak launch platform in the open seas, and then getting in two-person kayaks. Bas and I were in one kayak, and Linda and Krystyana in another.
Krystyana and Linda in a kayak at Pourquoi Pas island
We spent about an hour paddling around, looking at the floating chunks of ice, the glacier cliff, and various critters on bits of land (and a penguin on one of the ice floes too).
Another gorgeously colored glacial ice berg
The bits of ice in the water ranged in size from the size of a pack of cards to larger than our house. We were warned during our briefing to stay away from anything taller than us because they were dangerous and unstable.
One small iceberg had an Adelie (pronounced “Ah-Dell-Ee”) penguin on it, and on a nearby rock outcropping we found a group of fur seals.
Fur seals line the rock outcroppings at Pourquoi Pas Island
I also took the opportunity to approach a smaller “berg bit” and break off a chunk of ice to taste it. I was surprised to find that it tasted pure – not a bit of salt. Apparently, with glacial ice, even floating in the water, the saline of ocean water does not penetrate beyond the surface of the ice.
After our kayak workout, we were taken to shore at nearby Bongrain Point, a landing on Pourquoi Pas Island, where we found numerous small groups of Adelie penguins on a broad expanse of rock rubble and a glacial moraine (deposits of rock left by receding glaciers).
Adelie penguins observing the National Geographic Explorer
Penguins prefer to enter the water in groups to reduce the risk of predation of any one particular penguin
Adelie penguins leaping into the water to go feed
A swimming Adelie penguin
We found many of the rocks on shore covered by lichen, a fungal spore “plant” which can be hundreds of years old and grows very slowly. Lichen are the most populous plant family found in Antarctica, as regular tall plants simply cannot survive the climate. There’s a rare specie of grass, two flower plants, and several mosses that grow in the Antarctic, but not much else that will grow on land.
Lichen grow surprisingly abundantly in the Antarctic
Close-up of the same lichens seen previously
A different set of lichens on a rock at Pourquoi Pas Island
Later in the day our progress was interrupted by a pod of over twenty killer whales, and we got to spend nearly an hour following them around.
Six orcas swim together in the frigid waters of Antarctica
We stumbled across some crabeater seals relaxing on an ice floe while watching the orcas nearby
Two orcas with a glacier in the distance
Our cetacean mammal researcher, Stephanie Martin, went out on a Zodiac in order to use her special crossbow and quarrels to try an obtain a DNA sample from one of the orcas, but after a half hour was forced to return to the Explorer, unsuccessful in her efforts.
Our cetacean specialist Stephanie pursues a bull killer whale with a crossbow to get a DNA sample
Our day ended with what is likely to be our only passage through an ice pack. The ice pack was loose, composed of countless chunks of varying size of ice. But what was thoroughly impressive was the loud grinding noise that accompanied our ten minute passage through the ice pack.
Linda and I watched the forward progress of the Explorer through the ice pack on the TV in our cabin, and the trailing progress from our balcony at the rear of the ship. Pretty amazing.
Each cabin on the National Geographic Explorer has a TV on which the view from a forward mounted camera can be seen - here we are in a loose ice pack
This is what the loose ice pack looks like - it was not cold enough to freeze solid while we were there
The National Geographic Explorer's wake through the ice pack it is breaking through